Securing Structures Against Climate Impact: 3 Key Strategies

As storms and weather events become stronger and cause more property damage, experts at The Hartford discuss how building codes, technology and storm-hardening can make a difference.

After nine months, 2021 is already one of the most active and costliest years for weather events causing extensive damages – a trajectory that can overcome records set in 2020.
There have been 18 weather and climate disaster events through September 2021, each causing over $1 billion in losses.1 These events include:2

Drought and heatwave
– Flooding
– Severe storms
– Tropical cyclones
– Wildfires
– Winter storms

These events also caused more than twice the number of fatalities than from all events in 2020.3

Compared to 2020, there haven’t been as many weather events this year. In 2020, there were 22 weather disasters. However, the 18 events in 2021 have already caused more damage than 2020 events. Disaster costs through the first nine months of 2021 was $104.8 billion – compared to the $95 billion in damages in 2020.

Many scientists and experts believe more frequent and severe storms may become the norm.4 If so, we can expect rain, hurricanes, storms and wildfires to occur more frequently.5 While it’s difficult to predict what Mother Nature will bring, we know the number of storms and the intensity will continue to increase because of climate change. And while we can’t change the weather, we believe there are things that can be done to help protect buildings and reduce damages and losses.

1. Stronger Building Codes To Withstand Storms

It’s not uncommon to see the destruction that a hurricane or tornado leaves behind. From torn roofs to collapsed buildings, weather catastrophes have the potential to cause a large amount of damage.

“Stronger building codes are one of the best ways to make sure property can withstand catastrophes,” said Andy Simmons, large property leader at The Hartford. “We saw Florida implement changes to its building codes after Hurricane Andrew, then again in 2007 after the Hurricanes of 2004 and 2005. New construction since then has made houses and buildings significantly more hurricane proof.”

In a study of building codes in 18 states along the Atlantic and Gulf coast, nearly half received a poor rating from the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS).6 That means building codes in these states haven’t changed to address storm damage and new construction is likely using code that’s decades-old. Buildings constructed 30 years ago were likely built with codes that can’t withstand the strong winds of a hurricane or significant rainfall that a storm can bring.

That’s why the IBHS believes addressing all aspects of the building process can help break the “cycle of destruction.”7

IBHS President and CEO Roy Wright explained that states can strengthen their building codes to reduce losses by simply addressing roofs. For example, sealing the roof deck can prevent water from entering the building if a roof tears off. It’s a small expense during installation, but it can save tens of thousands of dollars in the long run.

The IBHS created the FORTIFIED program. It’s a set of construction standards “designed to strengthen homes and commercial buildings against specific types of severe weather.”Depending on the standard, fortified buildings can withstand severe storms, like an EF-2 tornado.

These standards mirror the building codes in Florida, which received the highest rank in the IBHS study. Homes and buildings constructed along the coast in Florida will be built with codes that mirror IBHS’s Fortified Gold standard to resist damages from a Category 3 hurricane.9

2. Storm-Hardening

Many existing homes and buildings may not have been built to withstand storms or water damage, but you can storm-harden them. Storm-hardening means improving the infrastructure to better withstand these kinds of losses.

“Storm-hardening a building can prevent potential damage from heavy winds and water,” Simmons explained. “It’s an upfront cost, but the return on your investment can be significant.”

An example of storm-hardening is improving the framing inside a building. Changing the framing can make it stronger, reducing the amount of potential damage during strong winds from a hurricane or tornado.

You can also put storm-hardening measures in place to protect your building against fire and water damage. Ensuring there’s proper drainage and flood protection when building can reduce the loss of equipment or inventory.

It’s a good idea to conduct a storm-hardening assessment of the building. This will give you a starting point of what areas to address and what can be done. Some structural areas to look at include:

– Building envelope evaluation
– Wall types
– Roof types
– Windows
– Doors
– Exterior drainage
– Landscaping

Don’t forget to look at your building’s mechanical and electrical needs. It’s a good idea to note:

– Locations of air handling units
– Water supply
– Critical electrical or mechanical equipment
– Whether an emergency generator has enough capacity to deliver the necessary power during an outage

3. Using Technology as a Proactive Measure

Advancements in technology have led to devices and building materials that can help protect a building in severe storms.

Connected devices can help you monitor your building and identify problem areas with leaks. Detecting leaks isn’t always easy. After a storm passes, it’s always good to check and document any initial damages. Sometimes, storm damage can lead to large property losses because of water. You can install water sensors in your building to get alerts of water intrusion or leaks.

“If your building or facility has had a history of water damage, these kinds of devices can help prevent a major loss,” Simmons noted. “The difference in damage costs from being able to quickly respond to a leak compared to not realizing something happened and letting hours go by is significant.”

Simmons added that he recommends businesses install water sensors even if the building is newer or hasn’t had a history of claims. This is because they’re still beneficial in preventing damage.

You can also install stronger walls or shatter-resistant windows in your building. These can help prevent water from ever entering your building. They can also keep the people inside your building safe during harsh weather. And if a window were to break, the glass won’t scatter all over.

A Partner With Experience

We can’t predict what 2021 or beyond will look like when it comes to storms, but we do know that weather events like hurricanes, tornados and wildfires will continue. And because of climate change, we’re expecting them to increase in severity.

We can’t predict what 2021 or beyond will look like when it comes to storms, but we do know that weather events like hurricanes, tornados and wildfires will continue. And because of climate change, we’re expecting them to increase in severity.